Story | 26 Nov, 2009

What are Global Temperate Grasslands worth? A case for their protection

A Review of Current Research on their Total Economic Value

Indigenous temperate grasslands are the most altered ecosystem on earth, with less than half remaining in an intact, natural condition. Intensive agriculture has replaced 41 percent of the world’s temperate grasslands and another 13.5 percent have been converted to urban, industrial and other uses. Much of the remainder, although still under grassland vegetation, is degraded and vulnerable to desertification. The fundamental purpose of the Temperate Grasslands Conservation Initiative (TGCI) is to reverse this trend and increase the level of conservation and protection of temperate grasslands through establishing additional formally protected areas and encouraging ecologically sustainable land use practices throughout the biome.

As an effort to make a stronger case for conservation and protection, the TGCI identified the need to better understand the total economic value (TEV) of temperate grasslands to human social and cultural well-being. This review summarizes the current literature regarding the TEV of goods and services provided by indigenous temperate grasslands, highlights research gaps and identifies future priorities.

The central conclusion is both surprising and disturbing. No empirical valuation research was found by this review that addressed intact temperate grasslands specifically. In a biome with the highest Conservation Risk Index globally, our understanding of the TEV of the goods and services provided by indigenous temperate grasslands is therefore virtually non-existent. As a result, temperate grasslands are one of the least understood global biomes in terms of their value to sustainable economic uses, and the provision of socio-cultural and ecosystem goods and services that contribute to human well-being. If not corrected, this lack of understanding will continue to threaten the long-term ecological viability of those indigenous grasslands that remain.

This report documents the current and limited understanding of the TEV of the goods and services provided by temperate grasslands. The need to place a value on the ecosystem goods and services and the social and cultural non-use values of natural areas has been identified as important since the 1990's, and techniques have been developed to help 'monetize' these values. This analysis documents the full range of goods and services provided by temperate grasslands with a focus on those 'use' and 'non-use' benefits that tend not to be priced in our market economy: .